How Big Media Aims to Destroy the Internet As We Know It

At OrgSpring, we don’t tend to use our blog as a soap-box or to give opinions on legislation or law related to the internet, but a suit filed recently by  Verizon against the FCC very clearly shows the intention of big media to control the internet, and more pointedly, charge you (the consumer) more money to access content they (ISP’s) perceive as premium offerings. This is, in my opinion, the single biggest threat to the internet as we know it – a place that provides the relatively inexpensive exchange of ideas, fosters innovation, and creates work (and fun) for millions around the globe.

But, Verizon and its cohorts want to change all that.

Here is a direct quote from the suit; the legs which prop up Verizon’s main argument. I’ve underlined and bolded key areas which are discussed below the quote. I think you’ll see Verizon’s argument is nothing but a smokescreen for the company’s real intention – a money grab.

Broadband providers transmit their own speech both by developing their own content and by partnering with other content providers and adopting that speech as their own. For example, they develop video services, which draw information from, and are then made available over, the Internet. Many also select or create content for their own over-the-top video services or offer applications thatprovide access to particular content. They also transmit the speech of others: each day millions of individuals use the Internet to promote their own opinions and ideas and to explore those of others, and broadband providers convey those communications.

In performing these functions, broadband providers possess “editorial discretion.” Just as a newspaper is entitled to decide which content to publish  and where, broadband providers may feature some content over others. Although broadband providers have generally exercised their discretion to allow all content in an undifferentiated manner, they nonetheless possess discretion that these rules preclude them from exercising. For example, they could distinguish their own content from that of other speakers or offer that capability to others. In fact, some types of speech, such as live streaming high-definition video, could benefit from (or may only be available with) differential treatment, such as prioritization. Broadband providers could also give differential pricing or priority access to their over-the-top video services or other applications they provide, or otherwise feature that content.

Partnering and Adopting that Speech AS THEIR OWN

Here’s another quote from Verizon’s Content Policy for Verizon Networks:

Verizon believes in open networks and that network operators should provide access to all lawful content on the Internet. Our content policy, adopted in 2008, help you access the content you want and avoid the content you don’t.

That just doesn’t jive with what Verizon asserts in the suit against the FCC, and no amount of legal wrangling will make it so. How can you help the customer access content he wants while simultaneously making it less visible and more expensive to consume? Maybe Verizon is operating under a different set of economic principles than the rest of the us.

Broadband providers do one thing: provide broadband. That’s it. Very few people get news from Verizon.net or Comcast.net. Fewer people get their news from AOL, which was an ISP before becoming the conglomerate and content provider it is today.

 

Editorial Discretion

Did Verizon, the internet service provider, just compare itself to the editorial content providers like the New York Times? I think it did. Over the past two weeks since the suit was filed by Verizon I visited Verizon.net’s home page to view articles posted there and test the functions it says it performs.

Out of the hundreds of different articles featured on the main page of Verizon.net guess how many were written directly by Verizon employees or staffers or Verizon subsidiaries. ZERO. Not a single article. I even searched the back pages and the fine print for Verizon produced content and couldn’t find an original word on the entire site.

In the last five minutes alone as I wrote this paragraph, The New York Times featured more than 10 stories on its homepage, and each one of them was written by a staff reporter who researched his or her story, wrote it under the employ of NYT, and published it as “content” of the NYT print and web editions.

I can safely say content creation is not one of Verizon’s real functions, unless they count their own privacy policies and sales copy as “content.”

 

Promoting Millions of Opinions

It may be true that you help millions of people promote their own ideas through your provisioning of internet services – but so do many millions of other websites and online providers. Asking for editorial discretion connotes the need for volume control or quality control, but it’s very clear that you are after only one type of control – the ability to restrict popular content so you can charge more for access to that content and fatten your own pockets. That is a far cry from editorial discretion.

 

Feature Some Content Over Others

Let’s just call this what it is Verizon – a money grab. This is a bean-counter looking at a list of the top websites in the country and consistently seeing the likes of Google and Youtube and Facebook on that list; and trying to find a way to better monetize access to those sites. We know the bandwidth argument is a fallacy. In Verizon’s own FIOS sales media it already claims to have the country’s fastest upload AND download speeds, and has been claiming to offer speeds and bandwidth which allow “lag-free” gaming, and connections at “double the speed of cable.”

So which is it Verizon? Are you the best internet provider with the best service, or are the lines so perilously clogged that you need to spend more money to invest in infrastructure and therefore charge the customer more to make up that expenditure? (By the way, the latter sentiment was used as an argument to the government when Verizon and other ISP promised to bring the internet to rural communities across the country and then later backed out of that agreement.)

Let’s take this out of the context of technology and put it into another area. Thin of the trails in Yellowstone park that lead to the summit of Grand Tetons. Imagine one of those trails has pretty flowers and a relatively easy rising course, making it the most popular choice of hikers seeking the summit. Then Imagine the operators of Yellowstone Park deciding that instead of letting the general public use that path to the summit it was going to start charging $100 per person because it is a popular route. It’s absurd, and so is Verizon’s argument for editorial control over the internet.

Here, big media is laying the ground work to create a la carte internet services, like cable offerings, whereby the customer would be charged different rates for different internet service levels. Want to access Gmail? Not so fast, that’s a $5 surcharge. How about YouTube? Oooh, that’s another $10 surcharge because streaming video is “taxing” on our network. Facebook? Sorry, not without a $20 per month surcharge. If this law suit is allowed to go ahead, and if by some chance Verizon is able to lobby and push these issues, that is eventually what our internet bills would look like. Never mind the fact that we already pay more than $60 per month just to get internet access.

Take it a step further, imagine your little blog has a few posts that go viral and your site now gets 1 million visitors a month, and Verizon deems that your site should now be premium content and they restrict access to it. Imagine what that would do to your business. Verizon argues net neutrality is unconstitutional on the grounds it prohibits free speech. What about our free speech?

Personally, as a business owner and operator, I believe a company does better business (and makes more money) when it acts in a way that enhances the lives of its employees and its customers; not when it seeks ways to enhance its profits at the expense of those it serves.

 

Summary

Verizon has long supported a culture which repeatedly results in citations for monopolistic behavior and anti-competitive business practices. The company exists in part due to the break up of AT&T and Ma Bell. Now, here they are again trying to beat the customer into submission. Bill McGowan is no doubt rolling over in his grave at the way Verizon and other ISPs are treating their customers.

I am not currently a Verizon customer, for obvious reasons, and likely will never be one. But if I were, I would cancel my cell phone plan, and throw my FIOS box in the garbage. I would write a letter to Lowell McAdam and demand the company withdraw its suit against the FCC, and insist the company continue to provide inexpensive access to the internet and unfettered access to all legal internet content – like it’s content policy promises.

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Craig Grella

Founder and Executive Director at OrgSpring
Craig is the founder and executive director or OrgSpring, a nonprofit dedicated to helping other nonprofits achieve their missions online. Through tips and tutorials, Craig's goal is show nonprofits how to use technology to become more efficient, grow their list of supporters, and increase online donations.